13 Tips for Love, Sex, and Dating as STI Positive
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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are far more common than you might think. In fact, one in five people have had an STI in their lifetime, and it only takes one sexual encounter to contract an STI. And despite the name, it is possible to contract an STI through nonsexual contact.
But dating, love, and sex can still be fun, exciting, and fulfilling with a positive STI status. What's most important is to practice self-compassion if you're diagnosed, and practice safer sex to prevent spreading STIs to your partners.
We spoke with Dr. Gary Schoolnik, an attending physician in internal medicine and infectious diseases, about how to have a fulfilling sex and dating life with a positive status.
Schoolnik encourages people to understand that STIs are not only common, but many are curable. Getting regularly tested is the first step in preventing spreading STIs.
"First, STIs happen — they are common, and most are curable," Schoolnik says. "Do not let shame or embarrassment prevent you from following proper STI testing guidelines."
While you may be concerned that you will test positive, it is essential that you know your status. Unfortunately, dating without knowing you have an STI doesn't mean that you are not infected. It only means that you won't know if you are passing an infection to your partners. Also, left untreated, you may develop another health condition that is more difficult to treat.
If you have not gotten an annual screening for STIs because you're fearful of the results, there are several things you can do to help ease the fear and anxiety. Begin by remembering your feelings are normal and consider these steps to help you feel more in control.
How to Ease Anxiety Around a Positive Status
1. Reframe How You Think About an Annual Screening
Instead of thinking about your annual screening as a problem, consider thinking about it as a problem-solving strategy. If there is an issue, then testing will reveal it. You can then address and solve it. If the results are positive, then it's best to take action as soon as possible.
2. Ask for Professional Advice
Knowledge is power. Uncertainty and anxiety are often the consequence of a lack of knowledge. Take the time to speak with a healthcare provider (HCP) who can provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.
"Having an undiagnosed STI is much more dangerous than finding out that you have one and working with your HCPs to take the proper test and treatment," Schoolnik says.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Pay attention to your present thoughts and feelings, without contemplating what the future may hold. For some, this can improve mental health and reduce anxiety and fear about a positive status.
When you pay attention to the world around you in balance with paying attention to yourself, it may help take your mind off your internal stress and anxiety. If doing this makes you feel worse, consider the next tip.
4. Connect, Connect, Connect
Bottling your emotions can make you feel worse. Connect with family, friends, and a community of like-minded individuals who understand what you're experiencing. They can help you process those feelings and access other resources and support you may need.
"It's important to find community with others who are living the same experience," Schoolnik says.
5. Keep Your Routine and Practice Healthy Habits
Your usual day-to-day routine can help keep you busy and feel comfortable. If possible, organize some fun time with friends. Be sure to eat well when you can, and practice self-care on days when you need extra comfort.
And if you are able to exercise, you might find that stress and anxiety slip away when you do. You may not feel motivated, but exercising for 45 minutes 3-5 times weekly can improve your mental health.
6. Consider Several Techniques to Reduce Anxiety
Deep breathing, imagery, and muscle relaxation can reduce the physical effects of fear. Box breathing is another anxiety-reducing strategy that may be worth a try because it can be done in many different places. Navy Seals use this technique to maintain a calm, cool composure in the face of combat. If it helps the Seals, it may help you too.
The Seals have found this technique improves your body's reaction to stress, cognitive performance, and mental well-being. It can interrupt or deactivate the fight-or-flight response, which can also reduce feelings of anxiety.
7. Practice Sharing Your Status With Your Current and Future Partners
Sharing your status with partners is extremely important. While this can be nerve-racking, having honest conversations with your partners shows you respect them. Check out these tips on how to tell your partner you have an STI.
6 Ways to Reduce Risk of Spreading STIs
Researchers have been studying STIs for decades. Several ways of reducing the risk of spreading STIs have been discovered through their study and the experience of healthcare professionals.
Here are six strategies you can use to reduce your risk of contracting or spreading a sexually transmitted infection and how to enjoy safer sex.
1. Talk Before, Not After
Have the conversation with your partner before you have sex the first time. Even if you are negative for an STI, do not assume that your partner is negative because they don't say anything. Since nearly one in every five people will be diagnosed with an STI, it's reasonable to assume that anyone you might partner with may be positive.
2. Annual Testing for All
If your partner has never been screened, or it's been nearly a year since you have, it's a good idea for you both to be tested. This ensures you are both negative or treated before having sex.
You and your partner should be tested regularly, especially if you have multiple partners. Here's a fun (and responsible) date idea: Get tested together!
3. Protection Is Key
A latex condom during vaginal, anal, or oral sex can help prevent the spread of STIs. Although some people like the feel of a lambskin condom, they do not prevent STIs. The pores on lambskin are small enough to stop sperm, so they are reasonably effective against pregnancy, but viruses can easily pass through them.
4. Make Sure Your Condom Is Actually Protecting You
External (often the default when not specified or referred to as "male") and internal (often called "female") condoms are effective against infections like HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.
However, they do not provide the same level of protection against STIs that are passed through open sores, like human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and herpes.
5. Consider Vaccines
If you're sexually active with multiple partners, consider getting vaccinated for hepatitis B and HPV. This can help reduce the potential risk of getting these infections.
6. Talk With Your PCP for Advice
Talk with your primary care provider (PCP) if you have health questions or concerns. If you aren't comfortable talking with your PCP, seek out medical care at a clinic that specializes in treating and educating patients about STIs.
STIs Are Not the End of Love and Dating
Remember, living with an STI does not define you, but it is your responsibility to communicate with your partners. Finding community with other STI-positive individuals and those who actively combat stigmas related to STIs can help you realize you too can have a happy, fulfilling life.
Living with an STI is no different from living with any other health condition because they all come with challenges and opportunities.
"When someone is diagnosed with an STI it is not the end of their story, it is only the beginning of a new chapter, and they can write it however they wish," Schoolnik says.
Meet our Contributors
Tresa Wallace, NP
Tresa Wallace is a nurse practitioner at The Pill Club. Wallace started her nursing career working in oncology and went on to spend 12 years as a labor and delivery (L&D) nurse. Following her time in L&D, Wallace worked as a nurse practitioner in various capacities, including at a private practice OB/GYN, a community mental health clinic, Planned Parenthood, and most recently, the OB/GYN department at Louisiana State University. Wallace earned her bachelor's in nursing from Loyola University in New Orleans and master's in nursing from Frontier Nursing University.
Dr. Gary Schoolnik
Dr. Gary Schoolnik is chief medical officer of Visby Medical. He is also professor of medicine (emeritus) at Stanford Medical School, attending physician in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Stanford University Hospital, and associate director of Stanford's Institute for Immunology, Transplantation and Infection. Schoolnik received his medical degree and infectious diseases subspecialty training at the University of Washington in Seattle and served as chief resident at Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. His academic research focuses on the molecular, genetic, and genomic aspects of infectious agents and on the development of new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics.
Page last reviewed: March 25, 2022
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